Since my debut novel, The Call of the Void, was released I have been inundated with questions about it and how it came to be. One of the more frequent queries is: why did I not go the route of traditional publishing? For those not familiar with what ‘traditional publishing’ means, it is the process most people imagine when they think of how one would get a novel from their imaginations to the bookshelves. You get an idea, you work on a novel, you look up publishers and wait for their submissions to open, you send your work out in accordance with the publishers’ various guidelines and you wait 6-8 weeks for feedback. For most aspiring authors, the buck stops there. Either nothing is heard, or a rejection letter is received. For the lucky few, though, their submission gets accepted, they may get paid an advance and the process of editing, cover design, layout etc. begins. About a year later they will be part of the rare elite who see their name lighting up the bookstore shelves. That is traditional publishing.
I went the route of independent publishing, or self-publishing. In other words, the entire process of getting the novel from a concept to a product and into the reader’s hands was either undertaken or managed by me, at my cost.
The advantages of traditional publishing are obvious. You get everything paid for and managed by a team of professionals who have done this for a living for decades. They have everything on hand to make your work a success. Breaking into traditional publishing, though, is extremely difficult. Every aspiring writer knows the famous tales such as how “Harry Potter” was rejected by 12 publishers before getting the nod. “Twilight” and “Lord of the Flies” were rejected 20 times apiece. Very few submitted works get accepted for publishing and few of those go on to become a commercial success. The guidelines for what gets accepted and what does not are often not clearly defined or completely arbitrary. To illustrate this point a fan recently sent a sample of a Nobel Prize winner from the 1980s to 19 publishers, 12 of which rejected the book outright while the others never replied. Also, unless you are a big-name author the publisher will still expect you, the author, to do most of the legwork in terms of promoting yourself. And, of course, the percentage of the sale which actually goes to the author is very low.
Self-publishing, on the other hand, can be done by anyone. Platforms such as Amazon and Kobo have helped the cause. The availability of an accessible platform has greatly increased the visibility of self-published authors and some are finding commercial success through a combination of great content, canny use of social media and marketing tools such as mailing lists.
The pros and cons aside, when it became apparent that The Call of the Void was going to be something I’d actually want people to read I had a choice to make. Initially I was bent on breaking into traditional publishing. I would make my submissions, bide my time and wait patiently for the inevitable slew of rejections before someone recognized my worth as a writer and accepted my draft. I thought that being accepted by a traditional publisher, preferably a big one, would be the only way I could consider myself a legitimate author. The South African market has a very limited capacity for the number of books published in a year, and first-time authors are generally put at the bottom of that pile. The barrier to entry is very high, and I have a product which does not fit into any of the most popular (commercially, that is) genres of fiction. Unless I was very lucky I would likely wait years, if it ever happened, before receiving an offer.
With the above in mind I began to look at the prospect of self-publishing in a new light. After a significant amount of research, it looked like self-publishing was the most viable way to get a share of a growing market and would allow me to get my work out there into the world without the long and pointless wait. I started to look at what was available on the bookshop shelves, and this also gave me some encouragement. Self-publishing may have a reputation for poor quality, but the big guys are by no means immune to mistakes and errors of judgement. Looking at some of those books I knew I could make something which at least looked the part. So, I made my decision.
Thankfully a team of seasoned readers could help me along the way with proofreading and editing, as well as thoughts and suggestions on the plot as it unfolded. A professional graphic designer was able to assist me and give me thoughts on my layout and design a colleague familiar with publishing was able to give me sage advice as to the ins and outs of printing. Armed with a lot of fresh knowledge and 67,833 freshly written and edited words I got it done.